Composer Maria Schneider: "Winter Morning Walks" emotionally fueled

Maria Schneider succeeds in her classical crossover effort, Photo: Maria Schneider, photo by Jimmy and Dena Katz

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2013 Maria Schneider’s music is poised to surprise, and her bold crossover effort in “Winter Morning Walks” is no exception. 

Composed for the legendary soprano Dawn Upshaw and played by both The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Australian Chamber Orchestra, Schneider composes two song cycles based on the prose of American poet Ted Kooser and Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond respectively. 

The meditative and poignant Kooser poems – written while he was battling cancer – are deeply touching and certainly set a high bar for musical treatment. Add to this the fact that Dawn Upshaw had dedicated her performance of the pieces to her recently deceased sister, and you have a recipe for high emotion.

Winter Morning Walks (album cover)

Winter Morning Walks (album cover)

The results of Ms. Schneider’s compositional efforts, while not always consistent, are nevertheless deeply satisfying.

Not having any of the academic hang-ups and historical baggage of some modern composers, Schneider simply sets to work crafting the most moving music that she can muster, staying in a generally classical framework but not shying away from her jazz roots (there is a tasteful amount of lovely improvisation built into the works.)

In “Perfectly Still This Solstice Morning” and “Walking by Flashlight,” Schneider crafts crystalline textures which seem to represent the fragility of the author’s own state, while simultaneously striking a sentimental tone. Perhaps most touching is Mr. Kooser’s portrayal of his own presumably love-filled marriage as he stood on the edge of death. Schneider’s setting of “My Wife and I Walk the Cold Road” elicits the fear of this death and the prayer for “thirty more years”, while the poet’s hopeful prayer for a better tomorrow – and represented in an iconic sunrise – is set with an ecstatic wash of instrumental color combined with a gentle swaying motion; this is deeply affecting music.

The scoring of the Carlos Drummond songs along with Schneider’s almost sickly-sweet melodies – all mixed with a touch of distant melancholy – could easily have found a home in a lush Brazilian film score.

The use of vocalese and infectious rhythms filtered through Schneider’s musical prism allow her to successfully walk the difficult compositional path of setting oneself in another culture without becoming derivative in any negative way. The result is similarly lovely to that of her Kooser settings, while striking a satisfying contrast to the first song cycle.

Those wise enough to purchase this lovely recording from artistShare will not only receive a beautifully packaged product, abut also a card bearing a code to additional online content.

SEE RELATED: The Radical Sound II: Contemporary classical composers & artists, UMD

Here we can see Maria move her product from start to finish, view score pages, and see videos documenting such moments as her enthusiastic discovery of prepared piano techniques. (A highly successful and selective precursor to, artistShare is a company that uses fan funding to bring about a number of highly original recording projects, leaving control and ownership of the final product in the hands of the artists themselves.)

Schneider is not new to her craft, or to me.  It was a cold night in 2007 when Maria Schneider and her big band took the stage in Chicago’s Harris Theater for their short share of a MusicNow concert. 

On an evening otherwise filled with the works of high-academic composers, it was Maria’s innovative jazz compositions that stole the night with their depth, authentic feeling, knack for color and impeccable craftsmanship. 

Her works were a clinic in orchestration technique, while the audience audibly gasped at the end of her first piece. Fresh, honest, and arresting, it only took two tunes from her big band to gain the respect and adulation of an audience of passionate new music lovers.

Schneider switches gears with her latest recording, a classical crossover effort titled “Winter Morning Walks.”

Poignant, touching, sometimes humorous, and deeply considered, Maria Schneider’s “Winter Morning Walks” is a highly suggested addition to your music collection.

(2.9 out of 4 Stars.)

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Mark Nowakowski


Dr. Mark Nowakowski is a composer whose works have been performed across the United States and Europe. He holds five degrees in various music concentrations, while currently
also serving as the Music Curator and Interim Director for the Foundation for Sacred Arts.

Contact Mark Nowakowski


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